Playing the Oddball Options

For the past 20+ years, I’ve praised my friend Chuck Kallenbach for his part in Decipher’s Lord of the Rings TCG’s “noise” rule and 50/50 light/dark deck build. Someone brought the game up today, and I remembered what a pleasure it was play. To see in what ways different people addressed those in deck builds. I remember in particular a kick-ass band of dwarves deck a friend put together.

What I probably haven’t said is that I like to build decks that abuse the spirit of any TCG, mainly for the challenge of making an off-kilter deck work, partly just as recalcitrance, somewhat for surprise at the table.

In Thunder Castle’s Highlander, the build was “Casper, the Asthmatic Tax Accountant,” using every non-combat card I could to avoid an actual sword fight. (Thunder Castle’s members-only cards thwarted pretty much every deck that didn’t include them, making convention tournaments pointless, but this one was fun in casual play.)

In Chaosium’s Mythos it was “The Pass/Fail Education,” playing “Pass and End the Round” cards early each turn, to cycle through & find what I needed while leaving other players flat-footed. (Happily, Chaosium later printed a card to prevent that card’s abuse.) But my favorite build to play in that was “The Sorcerer John Henry,” based on the “Exploited Coal Miner” character. It used “Carter’s Clock” Item and “Create Time Warp” spell to return to the “Castle of the Great Ones on Kadath” during the battle phase each turn, so as to dump spell after spell on the table without Sanity loss. All because a friend remarked that it was nigh impossible to use magic to any effect in the game. This TSJH deck was a somewhat slow one get up and running, and it frequently lost to other decks for that reason, but when it had time to get the gears in place, it dominated the game.


In Vampire: The Eternal Struggle it was a friend’s deck I was in awe of, something he called “Little Princes,” built around a plethora of 1-point Caitiff cards, a buttload of political cards they got into play before anyone else had enough votes to stop them, and a hand grenade or two for when they got caught in a dark alley by an older vampire, to sacrifice their own lives so as to put the other into torpor.

In the Lord of the Rings TCG Chuck helped design, I built a deck I called “Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em,” eschewing other fellowship members, to run just Aragorn and Frodo as party hoppers dashing from elven haven to haven, drinking up the wine and smoking up the pipeweed, then ducking out when the duo’s pursuers arrived. For flavor, the deck also included some smoking Gimli cards and Gandalf cards (they certainly weren’t efficient for achieving victory conditions). The dark half of the deck was all Uruk Hai, again inefficient, just so I could call that part “old Red Eye.”

Since those days in the late 90’s early 00’s, with TSR’s demise and life in general dispersing colleagues and friends across the US, I’ve not played much face-to-face with trading card games, so there’s not been the impetus to deep dive into oddball options in newer ones. But for nostalgia’s sake, I’m not really interested in doing so.

Nowadays I’m more apt to play a solo RPG or board game, not necessarily by necessity, but because the solo field is fascinating. Fortunately, tonight I’ve come upon some solo player’s rules for playing Mythos this way, and it’s time to give it a try. I hope to find something similar for V:TES, because absent those old friends, I do amuse myself.

Somewhere between omnishambles and bangarang

Photo by MARIOLA GROBELSKA on Unsplash

There’s an old sci-fi story about a guy who invents a time machine and finds himself lost in a chaos of disconnected events. That eternity is a kaleidoscope of random conjunctions, and what we perceive as each new millisecond is merely when the universe flickers into a pattern that resembles something it was before.

Which is to say, if I’ve promised you something, however small, and haven’t yet delivered, please feel free remind me. (I owe you a fanged smiley doubledice, David Annandale.)

Just to keep count, the current Republican Presidential frontrunner is a convicted sex offender, with 2 companies convicted of 17 counts of tax fraud. He has been indicted for 95 federal crimes. He and his allies have lost 62 voter fraud cases, winning 1. (A PA judge ruled that voters can’t return with ID 3 days after an election. It didn’t change the PA outcome.)

Still mad at me for suggesting it’s un-Christian to support him?

#RPGaDAY2023, Day 7: Smartest RPG

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

#RPGaDAY2023 Day 7: SMARTEST RPG you’ve played.

[I’m a day late, but started drafting this yesterday.]

Again, a very problematic answer.

By way of preface, let me say that I try to judge my own work with the same measuring stick as other people’s. There are two voices in my head: One is an excitable little child that believes in own its genius, and that enthusiasm is a necessity for art. The other is an adult editor and product-line manager with three decades of experience encouraging and critiquing other writers. That side has learned to tell writers: “This bit is wonderful! But we both know you were lax on this other part. The thing is, the wonderful bit deserves to have the lax part brought up to its level. And only you can pull that off!”

(My youngest daughter recently convinced me that having two people in your head is a neuro-divergent way of coping with creative stress. Common to autism and ADHD. We shall see. At 67 years old, I’m finally seeking counseling.)

So, back to the question: smartest RPG I’ve played?

Lots of RPGs have genius creativity in one feature or another, usually the setting. Only a few have a genius of game mechanics. When the two fit together, it’s magical.

Of those magical ones, I’d list Lost Souls and WEG’s Star Wars (see my previous post.) I’d add Malix Nystul‘s Whispering Vault as third, with its ritual adventure structure, and a dice mechanic that feels just a bit ritualistic itself. Though I think I’ve seen that dice mechanic elsewhere, this was my first exposure to it, and it fits the game.

And I think I accidentally hit that mark, or close to it, with the Bookmark No HP RPG and a few of its settings–likely “Supers! and “Bookmark Cthulhu!” I can’t claim that other things I’ve designed over the years reach that level, but in this case my editor brain thinks my child brain pulled it off.

Of those RPGs, which is the smartest? Right now, I’d have to say that Lost Souls may be the very best.

And nowadays it’s free!